Work and Days

Welcome to the Oddball Club

The Oddball Club

I receive lots of emails and letters each day, talk to strangers in public, and end up doing a few radio interviews weekly. From all of that back-and-forth, I’ve discovered there is an unofficial oddball club out there — of which I am a member. It is of no particular political persuasion, but clearly at variance with the norms of popular culture.

I think I can roughly delineate the rules of our informal club membership.

We certainly don’t listen to a lot of professors.When Professor Obama called borrowing “stimulus” and now “investment,” we assumed he was not too interested in paying back the $3 trillion that he has borrowed. Cutting a few billion of more trillion-dollar red ink is “fiscal sobriety.”

When “global warming” begot “climate change” that begot “climate chaos,” we in the club figured that grant-writing, release-time applying professors were back at their old tricks. When academics such as Summers, Romer, and Orszag quit and now write op-eds warning us about what they had wrought, we assumed that was par for the professorial course. Sometime in 2004 a professor dreamed up that 5.5% unemployment was proof of Bush’s reckless “jobless recovery,” and sometime in 2011 another one told us that 9.4% was an inevitable result of global structural changes beyond our control.

We in the oddball club live two lives, as sort of wandering souls who censor our speech and thoughts hourly. In line at the market, we assume the guy with the iPhone and the Camry does not really need the VISA-looking state food card, but we accept that that if we were to suggest he might not, a blizzard of venom would fall upon us — we would be called cruel, callous, racist, nativist, selfish, crack-pot, angry, hateful. So we shrug, smile, and say to ourselves: “Why not let him use the card at a restaurant as well?” And so it will come to pass soon no doubt.

In the present wide-open society, we assume that soon we are going to be rear-ended by someone without a license, insurance, or registration, or another is going to confront us for money, violently if need be. We expect a rendezvous like that on the horizon and expect that our reaction to it must be stoic. When my house was broken into, when my car was rear-ended, when I was run down on a bike, I accepted the culprit had his reasons for such a resort to criminality or indifference to statute, and accepted that to say otherwise was more trouble than it was worth. I made private adjustments to prevent a recurrence, as do most oddballs.

In the oddball club, we feel we also have a reckoning with debt. We know that the $14 trillion and counting national tab is getting — how should we put it? — rather “unsustainable” and higher by a trillion dollars a year. But we also shrug that the medicine — cuts in entitlements, balanced budgets, pruning of the federal government — is felt by most to be worse than the disease. Borrowing a trillion is compassionate, cutting a billion is heartless. Need we say more? Well, yes, we might. We assume that there is a pattern here: money is borrowed and redistributed to the deserving, who in turn vote as good constituents, while the bad — the oddballers (“they,” the bar-raisers, and Vegas junket crowd) — are to pay more for it all, a sort of Hero’s steam-driven sphere that just keeps spinning in place going nowhere as long as fuel is applied to fire things up.

So we shuffle on and await the inevitable. That is, either the state or federal government will default on its obligations or run out of money and start cutting, or, in Washington’s case, more inflating the currency. We assume that one magical moment a Jerry Brown or Barack Obama will simply say, “Oh, no more of that, there’s no more money” and the SEIU, Barney Frank, and Barbara Boxer, will gasp, “My god, he’s right.” Until then, we just plod along, as if witnessing the friend who lives higher than we do by maxing out a new credit card each month, wondering exactly how the collapse will play out.

Hypocrisy does not enrage the oddball club member. We casually expect to meet friends who hate charter schools, want more vast sums for public education, praise enforced diversity — and keep their kids in fast-track-to-college, apartheid neighborhoods and private prep schools — like the president himself, for example. There is nothing at odds with wanting both a federal takeover of health care, and expensive granite counters, stainless steel appliances, and pine floors in the kitchen. We accept that crusader Rahm Emanuel made $16 million on Wall Street, that a fat cat banker is now Obama’s chief of staff, and that Obama raised more money from Wall Street in general and BP and Goldman Sachs in particular than any candidate in history — and that as soon as he is reelected in 2012 he will go back to them/us blame-gaming with those above $250,000 who don’t give money to his causes as the proverbial kulaks. Life goes on…

Oddball clubbers don’t watch network news anchors, or read the New York Times, or watch much PBS news or hear NPR commentary. We accept that all such media at times have first-rate coverage and in-depth disinterested analysis, but such nuggets now exist buried beneath tons of slag and it is just too arduous and painful to mine them out. We all know that the U.S, unlike Scandinavia and the UN, is not perfect, but it is annoying to be sermonized about that supposedly original fact 24/7. Worse, there is a sort of deer-in-the-headlights fright in a Katie Couric segment or a New York Times op-ed that suggests that even they sense the gig is up and watchers and readers are fleeing. Being pompous is one thing; being pompous and frightened is another.

We don’t listen to rap, since we don’t blaspheme women, use the N-word, or resent the police. We don’t go out to many movies, given the usual choice between yuppie, metrosexual pyschodramas and the latest corporate or CIA conspiracy uncovered by a crusading George Clooney or Pocahontas android. I suppose after a half-century we do not need to be reminded that our ancestors were racist, sexist creeps whose untold sacrifices mysteriously did not lead to our present affluence. Ditto evening television. Some scripts we suppose in theory are well-written, but most are simply Southern California and New York ministry of truth efforts to condition us about what is good (urban, upscale, gay, left-wing, promiscuous, etc.) and bad (the oddball).

We never got into the hope and change hysteria and feel sorry for those that did — among them a few whom we have known a long time who simply were body-snatched and joined the majority. We never took seriously Obama 1.0— as the Chicago senator to the left of Bernie Sanders in the Senate — or presidential candidate Obama 2.0 — the centrist healer who suddenly discovered Rev. Wright was a racist — or Obama 3.0 — who damned the more affluent, appointed Van Jones, and took over health care — or Obama 4.0 — who writes pro-business op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, appoints a fat cat banker as chief of staff, and believes in coal mining and gas drilling. It was all simply Nixon redux, each new protean change to get elected to the Senate or elected and reelected to the presidency.

I could go on, but you get the picture of the odd-ball club — the organization to which we do not know, and yet do know, those weirdoes who belong.